Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
Say it five times fast: This guy is a legend.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
Make no doubt about it: This guy is the boss of IndyCar racing over the last 15 years. Robin Miller, who knows a thing or 100,000 about great drivers, thinks so. I don’t need as large of an abacus to count my racing knowledge as Robin, but I think so, too.
It also was a good night in South Florida for one Danica Patrick, who tied a season best by finishing second in the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300. It was a solid salvage job by America’s Princess of Speed, who ended the season in the top 10 with the strong result after an intense duel with Andretti Autosport teammate Tony Kanaan down the stretch laps of the race.
But there’s no rest for weary Danica, who probably would give some of her sizable endorsement income to approach a single-digit finish in her Grand NASCAR Nationwide Experiment of 2010, which continues full-bore now that the IndyCar season is done.
You had to feel for Will Power after the Homestead race. The laid-back Aussie dude was visibly oozing the pressure of the title chase last weekend at Homestead. I was there, and Will was uncharacteristically tense and even borderline snippy in a press conference Friday night after Franchitti won the pole, trimming one point from Power’s 12-point lead entering the event.
And the coil spring of Will’s psyche finally snapped when he brushed the wall trying to avoid lapped traffic in the race, ending his race and his championship hopes. Contrast that with Dario’s chilly nerves when avoiding the spinning, crashing car of rolling chicane Milka Duno later in the race.
Power lost the title by five points, but he gained a ton of respect and injected a heavy dose of fear into his rivals this season. As Danica said of Power in the post-race press conference: “He did a hell of a job this year. He kicked ass on the road courses, for sure.” That he did, winning the inaugural Mario Andretti Road Course Championship Trophy. And Power also improved quite a bit on ovals, even though that first win on roundy-rounds eludes him.
Prospects for a strong year also are looking up for Graham Rahal. He announced a big sponsorship deal for 2011-12 with TBC Retail Group, a major American tire and automotive retail company, on Saturday afternoon at Homestead. Whispers are getting louder than Graham is heading to a third Ganassi team in 2011. Was it any coincidence that a Ganassi executive was in the deadline room when the press conference took place Saturday at Homestead? Hmm …
IndyCar’s favorite bad boy, Paul Tracy, also is aiming for a strong full-season ride in 2011. PT is beating the bushes and says he’s close to having enough funding for next year. Let’s hope so. You never can get too much of The Thrill from West Hill.
While Graham is set and things are looking up for PT, there was a bit of bad news for Tony Kanaan and Andretti Autosport. 7-Eleven, TK’s longtime primary sponsor in the IZOD IndyCar Series, is returning only as an associate on Danica’s car next year. AA has given TK permission to look around the series for another ride.
Sorry, but I just can’t imagine TK at another team besides Andretti. He has been the one fixture — the pillar — of that outfit since it came to the series in 2003 as Andretti Green Racing. No one has worked harder, no one has driven harder and no one has kept the team more focused and unified than TK. To lapse into American sportscaster-speak, TK is the glue guy at Andretti. The team simply cannot afford to lose Kanaan, who immediately becomes the most coveted free agent in IndyCar.
The rousing battle between TK and Danica over the last 30 laps at Homestead wasn’t the only compelling bout last weekend between teammates who aren’t exactly best buddies. The heated rivalry between seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi and 2010 champion-elect Jorge Lorenzo finally boiled over at Motegi in a phenomenal, elbow-rubbing duel Sunday.
Seriously, the only difference between the scrap between Fiat Yamaha teammates Rossi and Lorenzo over the last three laps of the race and the classic old video game “Road Rash” was the lack of spiked balls and chains. This was as close to 180-mph two-wheeled combat as you’re going to see.
And Jorge was not happy with The Doctor after the race. As if Rossi cares. He knows Lorenzo and another rival, 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner, hate him, and he doesn’t give a rat’s posterior. Ah, the beauty of psychological warfare. Vale is a master of it. Just ask Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi. The brilliant Julian Ryder offers his always spot-on analysis of the Battle of Motegi at Superbike Planet.
Lorenzo, who just signed a two-year contract renewal with Yamaha, will get a bit of revenge this weekend at Malaysia: He’ll likely clinch his first MotoGP World Championship. Lorenzo’s closest pursuer in the standings, 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa, almost certainly will miss his second consecutive race after suffering a broken collarbone in a crash during practice at Motegi.
Three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Denny Hamlin in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing second behind Greg Biffle on Sunday at Kansas. But unlike MotoGP, it’s going to be awhile until this year’s champion is decided, as just 85 points separate eighth-place Biffle from points leader Johnson.
The tight points race should be a major topic of conversation heading into Tinseltown for the race this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, but instead a typical NASCAR soap opera is devouring the headlines. Kyle Busch and David Reutimann traded sheet metal and post-race barbs after they clashed twice on track at Kansas. The intent of Busch’s contact was debatable; Reutimann’s was not. He wanted to take out Busch and succeeded, helping to drop Rowdy to a 21st-place finish.
And thus the filmy residue of NASCAR’s “boys, have at it” policy was left on this race like soap scum around the base of the bathtub. Is it really in NASCAR’s best interests to have a non-Chase driver intentionally trash the race of a Chase driver? Jeff Gluck plays attorney, judge and jury in this blog, and his point is solid: NASCAR’s hands-off policy only will encourage more Chase-altering melees like Sunday at Kansas.
Maybe that’s what NASCAR fans want. But don’t you think NASCAR Nation would react a bit differently, with fewer “That puke got what was coming to him” comments spewed toward Busch, if the object of Reutimann’s bumper was Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Yeah, so do I.
Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Where’s that iconic stopwatch from the opening of “60 Minutes” when I need it? Time is short — very short — before the IZOD IndyCar Series title showdown Saturday night here in South Florida, and there is a lot going on in IndyCarland.
First, the obvious. Points leader Will Power and second place Dario Franchitti are gearing up for the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 on Saturday night, and Will is keeping it simple as he clings to his 12-point lead. Keep Dario in his mirrors, and the title is his. Problem is, that task isn’t so simple. Power has no career victories on ovals, and Franchitti is the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy winner this season for being the best performer on roundy-rounds.
I don’t know what to make of it. I still think Dario is too tough on ovals to top. But then again, staying ahead of Franchitti might not be such a tough order for an hombre who returned to racing this year after suffering a broken back in a crash midway through last season. Both of these cats have a ton of commitment and very large attachments, as David Hobbs likes to say on SPEED’s F1 telecasts.
He finished the Thursday Night Bowling League with a 217 average.
The lovely Cameron freezes another dude in his tracks.
Either Power or Franchitti will hoist an interesting-looking new IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy that was unveiled Tuesday in Miami. What do you think? It’s not your typical bowling trophy. It’s certainly … different.
You must admit, the trophy does look nice next to IZOD Trophy Girl Cameron. Then again, Cameron makes everything look nice.
While watching the IndyCar finale Saturday, it won’t be hard to notice Sarah Fisher’s Dallara on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sarah is driving an all-pink car for the second consecutive year at Homestead to increase awareness of breast cancer and help Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Another great gesture from one of the finest people in the series. Way to go, Sarah.
There appears to be some off-track news cooking for the IZOD IndyCar Series, according to Indianapolis Business Journal reporter Anthony Schoettle. He is reporting that the series is close to landing another big fish in the sponsorship pond.
It seems like off-track news is about all that NASCAR can generate these days. How to change the Chase, how to lift flagging TV ratings, the Great Clint Bowyer Controversy, etc. It sort of reminds me of the scene from the classic Led Zeppelin concert movie, “The Song Remains The Same,” in which Robert Plant shrieks the lyric, “Does anybody remember laughter?” during “Stairway to Heaven.”
With all apologies to Plant, does anybody remember the racing in NASCAR? There still is paint-trading going on every weekend as 12 drivers try to beat each others’ brains out to win the Sprint Cup. Yet fans are still bitching. A lot. And Ed Hinton at ESPN.com is getting damn sick of it.
Still, it’s pretty hard to avoid the stock car soap opera du jour, NASCAR’s denial of the appeal filed by Richard Childress Racing of the penalties imposed on Clint Bowyer and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, after Bowyer’s car was found a hair-width out of spec after winning the opening race of the Chase, in New Hampshire.
Childress is steamed and said he will take the appeal to the Chief Appellate Officer (whomever that is). The accident reconstruction expert Childress hired to testify for the team in the hearing Tuesday also thinks he was smeared like mayo on a BLT by NASCAR.
It’s getting fugly, folks. Despite this imbroglio and the pending second appeal, Childress insists it won’t affect the team’s three-car assault on the Cup with Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton. Let’s see: Bowyer’s chances of regaining 150 points lost from the NASCAR penalties and jumping back into the thick of the Chase hang on more off-track proceedings, and Bowyer and RC are not supposed to be distracted?
Hey, there is good news in this melodrama. Harvick and Denny Hamlin have kissed and made up after Harvick played Smash-Up Derby with Hamlin in practice last weekend at Dover, angry at a verbal swipe Hamlin took at Harvick’s RCR teammate Bowyer over the New Hampshire penalties.
Will Volkswagen go NASCAR racing soon? I snuck that in there quietly because I know so many NASCAR fans went apocalyptically berserk when Toyota joined the Cup series even though Toyotas are built by workers who earn real George Washington dollars in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas and West Virginia, strongholds of God-fearing, Lee Greenwood-singing American patriots.
So, shhhhh on VW. Sorry I even mentioned it.
Off to MotoGP, where the series starts a three-race-in-three-weekend stretch this Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi.
Points leader Jorge Lorenzo isn’t exactly in cruise control despite leading 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa by 56 points with five races to go. Seven-time and reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi will be on the grid, but fans might see 2011 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 signing Cal Crutchlow on a Fiat Yamaha for the last two races of the season if Rossi follows through with surgery on his nagging shoulder injury. Welcome to the big time, Cal. No pressure, matey!
One thing Rossi claims he won’t do this offseason, new surgical scar on his shoulder or not, is form and manage a Moto2 team for 2011. He’ll probably be too busy, anyways, talking about his new red ride for 2011 with longtime crew chief Jeremy Burgess, whom it looks increasingly likely will follow The Doctor from Yamaha to Ducati.
A provisional 2011 MotoGP schedule finally is out. While David Emmett at Motomatters.com does his usual excellent analysis of all things Grand Prix motorcycle racing, there’s really only one fact you need to know: The fourth annual Red Bull Indianapolis GP is Aug. 26-28, 2011 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and you better damn well be there!
There are very few grains of sand left in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series hourglass, as the offseason gets underway this Saturday night after the season-ending Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. So it’s time to start zeroing in on the big finale and championship chase before the long winter gets underway.
John Oreovicz of ESPN.com takes a closer look at the title tussle between points leader Will Power and reigning champion Dario Franchitti, who is just 12 points behind in second.
Power and Franchitti are leaving nothing to chance, joining the list of drivers who tested Monday at the aqua-walled Homestead oval. Also among the testers were Power’s Penske teammates, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, and Dixon’s Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon. You can bet their engineers’ laptops will be wide open to Power and Franchitti as every last byte of data is examined to try and find an edge heading into the race Saturday.
Fans of arguably the most talented and definitely the most delightful rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season, Simona de Silvestro, can exhale: She will compete in the season finale this Saturday night for HVM Racing. Rumors swirled like a strong breeze in a Manhattan concrete canyon that Simona and the team shut down. Thankfully, that’s not true, according to team owner Keith Wiggins.
Let’s hope HVM finds the dough that Simona’s talent deserves. She’s a keeper for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
One lady in the IndyCar paddock who doesn’t need to worry about her next paycheck is Danica Patrick. But the multi-million dollar question looms high above the 5-foot frame of America’s Princess of Speed: IndyCar or NASCAR? Jeff Olson examines both sides of the story in his blog at VERSUS.com.
Speaking of money and racing, it seemed like NASCAR was the petroleum-fueled land of milk and honey during the boom years of the sport last decade. Now NASCAR drivers and teams are hurting for cubic dollars to power their teams just like their brothers and sisters in every other form of racing in North America. And Jeff Gluck writes that the recoiling of Corporate America at 200-mph billboards could have a negative effect on the talent pool in NASCAR.
Hey, Kenny: What's that, Rusty's money clip?
Gluck also stays on the topic of money in this interesting short about the Twitter feud between SPEED NASCAR announcer and former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace and Brian Scott, who was released by Braun Racing on Monday despite heading toward the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year title.
It seems that Herman touched a nerve with Master Scott because he suggested that Scott’s daddy had plenty of money that would help buy Sonny a ride. Gasp – ride buyers in NASCAR?
But one reader comment beneath Gluck’s blog post also pointed out the irony of Wallace complaining about ride-buying, as his nephew Steven probably never would have received a Nationwide Series ride if his father wasn’t one Rusty Wallace. Zing!
Then again, some ride buyers in NASCAR eventually develop into solid drivers. Terry Blount of ESPN.com wrote about how Paul Menard has evolved into more than just a kid playing with his father’s money this season and is worthy of his ride for 2011 at Richard Childress Racing. Menard’s father, John, owns the major home improvement chain Menards, which is an institution across the upper Midwest.
Enough about money and racing. It’s too depressing. Let’s get back to the racing itself, and the relentless meat grinder known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup continues this weekend at the 1.5-mile cookie cutter at Kansas.
Everyone was ready to deep-six Johnson after he finished 25th in the Chase opener Sept. 19 at New Hampshire, and now many are calling the engravers to prepare the trophy after Johnson won at Dover. I still think Johnson will complete a successful Drive for Five, but maybe it’s not that simple.
With apologies to Ivan Drago of "Rocky IV" fame, "JJ, I will break you."
A few very solid alternatives to the trendy pick of Johnson to ride the wave to his fifth title are Carl Edwards and the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt. It would be great if four or five drivers had a realistic chance at the title — not just one of those bogus, mathematical “if Jupiter and Pluto align just right and Jimmie Johnson catches whooping cough” kinds of chances — entering the season finale at Homestead.
But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Another thing I’ll believe when I see is Ferrari holding to a commitment to cut costs in Formula One. The gap between the have’s and have-not’s in F1 resembles that in a Third World country. And there’s absolutely no reason why mega-buck superteams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull want anyone from the outhouse to join them in the penthouse.
Moving on to MotoGP, reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi expects a painful time this weekend during the Grand Prix of Japan at Motegi, mainly because the circuit’s layout will aggravate his chronic shoulder injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rossi follows through on his plan to skip the last two races of the season to have shoulder surgery and be completely ready for preseason testing in 2011 for his new employer, Ducati.
Finally, one of the coolest races in North America to which almost nobody pays attention is scheduled for this weekend, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The American Le Mans Series features an impressive variety of machinery in a motorsports world that has become mind-numbingly spec these days.
Plenty to catch up on after a day away from Splashing And Going. But first, it was good to be Bruce Barhydt on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Damn good.
Bruce and his wife, Barbara, visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to pick up the keys to their 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Indianapolis 500 Pace Car that they won in the Indy 500 Pace Car Sweepstakes simply by renewing their tickets for the 2011 “500″ at www.imstix.com. And two-time and reigning Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti was there to hand the Barhydt’s the keys to their new ride and take them for a spin around IMS in the Camaro. Dario is a hell of a driver and a classy dude – a magically delicious ambassador for the Indy 500 and IndyCar.
Not a bad way to spend a day, eh? Speaking of Indianapolis 500 tickets, it’s time for a friendly Public Service Announcement: Tickets for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29 – the 100th anniversary of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – are on sale now at www.imstix.com.
While Japan’s rabid-but-polite IndyCar fans are still coming down from their fun last weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, attention in IZOD IndyCar land has shifted to South Florida for the season finale Saturday, Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Will Power leads Franchitti by just 12 points entering their titanic tussle, but Pop Off Valve has those drivers reversed in its latest power rankings. Hard to blame them. Will never has won an oval race; Dario has won plenty, including last year at Miami.
VERSUS will televise the finale, and Pressdog interviewed ace racing TV producer Terry Lingner about all the hard work that goes on inside and outside “the truck” just to get an IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast on the air. One of Lingner’s charges that night will be reporter Jack Arute, who curiously wonders out loud why the season finale is going up against SEC and Big 12 football.
I’m really getting tired of the “we need to avoid football” argument. First, if the finale was contested on Sunday afternoon, it would clash with the NFL. And is there really enough room in the schedule to end the season by the end of August, before football? No.
So all IndyCar can do is put on a good show (it does), have a compelling championship race (it does, without gimmicks) and promote the hell out of it. Every other sport in America – not just IndyCar – is a fresh asphalt speed bump ready to be flattened by the steamroller known as football. Even NASCAR, the self-proclaimed No. 2 sport in America, is struggling with ratings against the mighty giants of the gridiron.
Plenty of reasons and solutions for the disappointing TV ratings of the Chase opener at New Hampshire are being tossed about in the blogosphere. One of the reasons I see often is the proliferation of high-def TV’s these days. The camera angles are great from the track, the picture is crystal-clear on an HDTV, and the beer is a lot cheaper and plentiful and the traffic is a lot thinner at home in front of the 50-inch plasma than it is at the racetrack.
That might be true. So how is Charlotte Motor Speedway responding? By building the largest HDTV in the world at its track. It’s even bigger than Jerry Jones’ vaunted board hanging over the field at the new Cowboys Stadium, which has to rankle Jerruh’s considerable ego just a smidge. Everything is big in Texas, but it’s even bigger in Charlotte.
Can you play Xbox 360 on that thing?
I have mixed emotions about this board. It will be good for replays. I’m also guessing advertisers and sponsors will dig it. But “Bruton-tron” also will breed more of the loons who pay good money to attend sporting events and spend more time watching the video boards than the action on the field or on the track. I’ve never understood that. If I wanted to watch TV, I would have stayed home. Am I a lone, crotchety voice in the video wilderness?
This just in, almost literally as I type, from the halls of NASCAR in Daytona Beach: Clint Bowyer was using an illegal car when he won the Sylvania 300 last Sunday at New Hampshire, the opening race of the Chase. Bowyer was docked 150 points, and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was fined $150,000 and suspended six weeks. I guess it was more than a misplaced wheel nut, then.
Richard Childress, Bowyer’s car owner, claims the car was out of specification because other drivers tapped the rear of it during Bowyer’s victory lap. Childress also said the tow truck that pushed Bowyer’s car into Victory Lane knocked the rear out of whack.
Childress vowed to appeal the penalty all the way to the NASCAR Commissioner. This could get interesting. What if the penalty is overturned, Bowyer stays on a hot streak and ends up winning the Chase by less than 150 points? What if the penalty is upheld and he ends the season 149 points or less behind the eventual champion?
Sticky. And fun.
Well, so much for the Bowyer Cinderella story, at least for now. Bowyer now has yo-yo’d from 12th to second back to 12th in the points since last Sunday morning. Leader Denny Hamlin now enjoys a 45-point gap over second-place Kevin Harvick.
The soap opera continues in Formula One, where a battle is brewing over who has control of the iconic Lotus name. It’s a typical F1 sh*tstorm between two guys with wallets to match their egos. But does it really matter? Lotus isn’t Lotus without Colin Chapman running the show, and reviving the classic British Racing Green paint job doesn’t instantly play Lazarus with an esteemed racing marque.
All this does is besmirch the names of late Lotus greats like Chapman and Jim Clark. Sad.
There also are rumblings that Michael Schumacher may pull the plug on his ill-fated comeback attempt after this season and hang up his helmet. So the ego really has landed? I’ll believe it when I see it, but it would be a good idea. Right now, Michael looks like Willie Mays in his final, sad season with the Mets, losing routine fly balls in the sun.
From a four-wheeled legend to one on two wheels, Kenny Roberts, the first American MotoGP World Champion, is selling his house and practice facility in California. Check out King Kenny’s Krib. It’s a roomy place, but in time-honored gearhead tradition, the garage is almost as big as the house and contains a complete machine shop:
Ducati also was in the news recently, but it had little to do with Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi or Nicky Hayden. The iconic Italian manufacturer presented two of its Multistrada models to the motorcade for Pope Benedict XVI. Maybe it’s a gift for His Holiness using his WATS line to above for Ducati, as Stoner answered the Ducatisti’s prayers by earning the team’s first victory of the season Sept. 19 at the Grand Prix of Aragon. Hey, they don’t call it the Red Phone for nothing.
There is real, on-track news in MotoGP. Seriously. The Grand Prix Commission rubber-stamped a change of the schedule for the rest of the season in which the three hours of MotoGP track time Friday and Saturday will be divided into two 45-minute practices Friday, and one 45-minute practice and one 45-minute qualifying session Saturday. Since 2009, there has been a one-hour practice Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, with a one-hour qualifying session.
That revised schedule debuted at Aragon, and it looks like it also will become the rule of the land for the 2011 season.
So maybe it’s not so bad to be Clint Bowyer, after all.
Remember last Thursday when I linked to a blog entry about whether it was better to be Clint Bowyer, winless but in the Chase, or Jamie McMurray, out of the Chase but the winner of the mega-monstrous Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400? I leaned toward the side of Jamie Mac, as people remember winners more than drivers who bring home their car safely in a nice points spot every week.
Tony Stewart’s situation in Sunday’s fun race shows just how thin the line is between the penthouse and the outhouse. If Smoke had enough gas to hold off Bowyer over the closing laps, media would have anointed him as the favorite to win the Chase. Instead, he finished 24th and fell to 11th in the points.
But Smoke wasn’t the only popular Chase-winning pick to have trouble. Four-time reigning champ Jimmie Johnson finished 25th. But remember, JJ finished 39th in the opening Chase race in 2006 and still won the title. Jeff Burton finished 15th. A few people’s dark horse pick, Matt Kenseth, probably rode off into the sunset after finishing 23rd.
Kyle Busch finished ninth, but Rowdy’s immaturity — sometimes my 9-year-old son acts more grown-up than this guy — isn’t exactly a crucible of grace under pressure. I’m just not sure if Kyle has the mental toughness to survive the pressure of a 10-race grind. He’s THE classic example of checkers or wreckers, in the car and in his brain.
So where does that leave Denny Hamlin? As the leader of the Chase after finishing second to Bowyer, which maybe isn’t that surprising after Hamlin was the stylish pick to win the whole enchilada after taking the checkers at the final pre-Chase race Sept. 11 at Richmond.
Hamlin admitted that he didn’t have the greatest day or car Sunday, but he still ended up second. That should trigger the theme from “Jaws” in his rivals’ mind. That’s what champions do: Take rotten apples and still make damn good tasty cider.
One final comment about the New Hampshire race. It was an exciting show, with a lot of action and drama packed into a nice, three-hour window. Note to Daytona Beach: Sprint Cup races do NOT need to be 500 miles or 500 laps. This was a classic case of less is more.
Sure, some races should stay at the classic distance or lap total. But most of the NASCAR shows could, and should, be cut down to a more reasonable length. It’s less time plopped in front of the TV to see drivers cut meaningless laps, and it provides more of a sense of urgency and a better show.
OK, time to climb off the soap box.
The IZOD IndyCar Series’ championship chase — which doesn’t need a postseason to be close, I might add — has come down to Will Power vs. Dario Franchitti on Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Power’s Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, won the Indy Japan 300 on Sept. 19 at Twin Ring Motegi, while two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Franchitti finished second. Power finished third, his best result on an oval.
But Dario looms closer than ever in Will’s rear-view mirror. Just 12 points behind. The math is pretty simple for Power: He needs to beat Dario at Homestead. Easier said than done, especially when you remember who won last year at Homestead to clinch the title. Yeah, that Franchitti kid.
Tony Johns takes a look at a few other trends from Motegi, including love for IndyCar in the Land of the Rising Sun and a solid performance by Danica.
Much rejoicing in the OWB
MotoGP served up one of its best races of the 2010 season Sunday at the new circuit at Motorland Aragon. Casey Stoner pulled free from the dogged pursuit of 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa over the final laps for the first win by Ducati this year. American Nicky Hayden used a ballsy pass on the final lap to pass Jorge Lorenzo for third, the Kentucky Kid’s first podium finish since placing third in August 2009 at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at IMS.
It was Lorenzo’s first finish off the podium in 13 races this season. But what’s even more shocking is that Lorenzo’s fourth place ended a run of 47 consecutive MotoGP podium finishes for Yamaha. Damn, that’s amazing. The Crossed Tuning Forks put at least one rider on the box for nearly the equivalent of three straight seasons.
Lorenzo’s Yamaha factory teammate, Valentino Rossi, suffered through his second-worst weekend of the season by finishing sixth. It’s pretty safe to say that Vale’s crash at Mugello in which he broke both bones in his lower leg will be tough to top as the lowest point of his year.
Rossi dropped a bit of a bombshell after the race by saying he may skip the final two races of the season, at Estoril, Portugal, and Valencia, Spain, to have surgery on the shoulder injury that has troubled him even more than the broken leg this season. It will be interesting to see if The Doctor changes his mind if Lorenzo’s 56-point lead over Pedrosa shrinks to dangerous margins by then.
Vale and Jorge aren’t buds, and there’s also a lot of friction between Rossi and Yamaha now that Rossi is moving to Ducati next season. And it looks like Rossi’s wizard/crew chief, Jeremy Burgess, and his entire Yamaha crew will follow Vale to Ducati in 2011. Rossi, the Pied Piper of MotoGP.